by Rev. Jerry Kieschnick
May is the month of graduations from schools at all levels, including our Lutheran elementary schools, high schools, colleges, universities, and seminaries. In addition, in May we celebrate Pentecost, Mother’s Day, and Memorial Day. What a blessing to celebrate graduations, to thank God for the gift of mothers, to have a special day to recognize the birthday of the Christian church, and to honor those who have given so much for our freedom.
One of our greatest freedoms is the freedom of religion—to worship the Triune God and to proclaim the message of salvation through faith in Christ alone, all without fear of persecution or martyrdom.
The message of salvation in Christ, without any merit or worthiness in ourselves, is the wonderful Good News that we have to share with the world. This is the message of St. Paul in Romans 10, that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (v. 9) and “‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (v. 13).
Please listen to Paul’s next words: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (vv. 14–15).
These words highlight the critical importance of those whom God calls into the ministry of the Gospel in the pastoral office.
In the Missouri Synod, nearly 5,400 active pastors— along with a significant number of retired pastors—serve 6,155 congregations. Concordia Plan Services tells me that about half the pastors active in ministry today will reach or pass retirement age in the next 10 years.
This would mean the Synod’s congregations will need around 2,700 pastors over that time, an average of 270 each year, just to fill vacancies created by retirements. This is more than the number of pastors certified and ordained in each of the past 35 years. Add to that the objective of the Synod approved in 2004 to start 2,000 new congregations by 2017—an Ablaze! goal—and one can easily see the challenge before us to identify, recruit, and prepare pastors for our Synod.
Surveys indicate that entering seminary students by and large identify their parish pastor as the individual most influential in their decision to enter the seminary to become a pastor. Also important is the influence of parents, grandparents, and key congregational lay leaders.
In my own case, I was preparing for a career as a veterinarian when the Lord through an experience in college turned my head in a different academic direction. As a result, upon graduation, I had the privilege of teaching fourth grade in a Lutheran school. The influence of the pastor in the congregation that operated the school was significant in my growing respect for the pastoral office. That, along with the influence of my campus pastor and encouragement from the beautiful young lady who has been my wife for the past 42 years, resulted in my Spirit-led decision to enter the seminary to become a pastor. Over the years, other pastors have shared with me many and varied stories of ways the Lord led them to make that same decision.
All this is shared as encouragement to think of men to whom the Lord has given such gifts as faith, faithfulness, ability to communicate, love for Jesus, deep appreciation for Scripture, and sincere concern for the welfare of people—especially for those who do not yet know Jesus as Savior and Lord. Encourage these men to consider the pastoral ministry. And prayerfully consider financially supporting them and the other men at our seminaries. To contribute, send your check to Joint Seminary Fund, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122, or go on the Web to www.lcms.org?11585.
I know you join me in prayer and in personal participation in this very important endeavor so that many more may hear the Good News about Jesus!